Welcome to the “Bitter Cold.” Holidays are over, New Year’s has passed, viral plagues have not, and single digit temperatures have arrived. Although we do not hibernate, nor could we, even if the more introverted of us might prefer to, in theory we should do so at this time. Instead, how can we compensate for the nature of the present climate?
In Chinese Medicine herbal formulas that contain bitter and cold ingredients, such as coptis root, phellodendron, or gardenia fruit, generally harmonize their harsh properties with more acrid, warm ingredients, such as ginger, dry-fried ginger, tangerine peel, or pinelliae root. This enables the bitter, cold herbs to purge systemically damp/hot inflammation without compromising the integrity of the stomach qi, or microbiome. This is holistic medicine.
Self-care can be “holistic” as well. Ie. If we eat a cold salad or ice cream it should be had with or followed by hot ginger or cinnamon tea (No, it doesn’t help to have ginger or cinnamon flavored ice cream). Conversely, if we eat an especially rich or spicy meal, and/or have alcohol we might accompany it with a few cucumbers or radishes—or follow it with peppermint or barley tea the next day (still hot, as cold beverages can never benefit the gut from our perspective). If we exercise or work out hard on a particular day we should get to bed early that night, in order to properly recover the body fluids used in the workout. If we slept awful the night before we should take it easy. Nap if possible. If we slept and feel wonderful we should exercise and strive for progress. It is said that we should view each day as a lifetime in itself, and try our best to balance it accordingly.
From a climactic perspective, we might counterbalance the bitter cold weather with similar choices. As the low temperatures and more difficult commutes exhaust our cellular energy, which is what engenders our immunological energy, all forms of conservation are advisable: Less exercise, less sex, less work (if possible), and earlier bedtimes as often as possible. All of these, with the exception of less exercise for the “New Year, New Me” crowd, are relatively intuitive in January.
As goes the outdoor environment, it is most advisable to eat like Eastern Europeans for now. Think beef or lamb stews, chicken soups, even sausages and pork chops, all of which paired with roasted or steamed vegetables. Vegetables might be sauteed with ginger, garlic, onions, any warming spices to recover from the bitter cold that surrounds us. Duck is actually considered to have a “cooling” effect on the body, although I am inclined to think that a duck confit roasted with onions and garlic and served with red wine should amply warm the body. While 11pm is the advisable bedtime for summer, 10pm is ideal for winter. Beer and other cold beverages should be minimized, as should raw fruit and all forms of sugar. For my apple-loving daughter, I roast them at 350 or 375 for 10-20 minutes with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup. For myself I would also add clove powder, but it is too spicy for her.
For my purposes, many of you will notice me doing a lot more moxibustion on the body at this time of year. Whether on the belly, along the spine, or at point, “Stomach 36,” just below the knee, no hands-on modality is more effective at regenerating healthy fluids and moving the blood than “moxa.” My opinion is that acupuncturists who do not use moxa at all are likely doing their patients and the entire medicine a disservice, as at its inception Chinese Medicine was not called “Chinese Medicine,” but “Zhen Jiu,” or “Acupuncture and Moxibustion.” Our classical texts dictate: “Use acupuncture to treat ‘yang patterns,’ moxibustion to treat ‘yin patterns’.” My understanding of this is that acupuncture excels at clearing heat and releasing stagnation, but the mugwort is necessary to dissolve unhealthy fluids and regenerate healthy ones.